Excommunicated priest broadcasts Mass
By DOUGLAS HYDE
WHEN Czech Catholics switched on their radios on Sunday they thrilled to the sound of a broadcast High Mass. Perhaps, after all, they thought, the regime is having second thoughts.
But they were appalled when later they learned that what they had listened to was the most blasphemous thing the Communists have done yet. For the celebrant was the recently excommunicated Fr. Jan Dechet, who accepted a " bishopric " from the Communists in defiance of the Church and who has now become their creature.
The broadcast was from " his" cathedral at Banska Bystrica, in the heart of Catholic Slovakia. His congregation, to complete the macabre setting, consisted of as many renegade priests as the Communists could muster, led by the excommunicated Fr. Josef Plojhar, Minister of Health, first priest to go over to the Reds, plus an atheistic crowd of Communist officials engaged in leading the war on religion.
Don Juan at Vatican
Later that day Vatican Radio said that Fr. Dachet had committed a " grave sin " in celebrating the Mass and urged Czech Catholics to do penance for this " profanation."
It would appear that Sunday's sacrilegious broadcast is likely to be the prelude to still more sinister moves by the Government. It followed close on the expulsion of Mgr. Ottavio de Liva, Secretary of the Papal Nunciature in Prague, which broke the last link with the Vatican.
Although the curt note instructing him to leave within three days did not formally break off relations with the Vatican it is regarded as a clear indication that a de facto rupture of relations does exist. Mgr. de Liva was accused of " interference in the affairc of the Republic."
Mgr. de Liva arrived in Rome by air on Sunday and his Nunciature now stands empty.
Describing his last days in Prague he said that when the order for his expulsion was delivered on Thursday the Nunciature was at once surrounded by armed police and the building was floodlit.
He was told that the police had orders to fire should he try to escape. He was escorted to the airfield by motor cycle police who remained until his plane took off.
On Monday the heads of the nonCatholic Christian bodies swore their allegiance to the Government before Premier Zapotocky. Dr. Kovar, who heads the Czechoslovak Church told the Communist Premier : " May I assure you that we have taken the oath gladly."
His denomination is being built up by the Communist Press for the moment as the rival to the Catholic Church.
The willingness of the other Christian leaders to take the oath now leaves the Catholic Hierarchy —who have so far resisted doing so —completely isolated. It is thought likely that the Government's next move will be to remove the Bishops and replace them with people who support the Communists against the Church.
That move is conditioned only by their ability to deceive, bribe or coerce the weaker elements into becoming their tools.
Bishoprics are waiting for ambitious men in a Communist-created and controlled "National " church.
A laity of sorts is being got together for such a body consisting of one-time Catholics who, in most cases, .long ago ceased to practise their Faith and joined the Communists and who are prepared at the party's bidding to put up a pretence of religion for the moment.
he situation is worst in this respect in the Sudeten areas.
Reports from Moravia suggest that many Catholics, in this area where their faith was often not as strong as it should have been, are being strengthened by the current persecution. In Slovakia, which has throughout remained sound, the Communists arc going to any lengths to discredit and to undermine the Church and it is no coincidence that Sunday's sacrilegious broadcast came from there.
On the previous day Alexej Cepicka, Minister responsible for Church Affairs, declared in a budget debate that the Bishops were guilty of high treason. " They will," he warned, " receive the reward they have earned."
The Czech Legation to the Holy See is being liqu,dated and its two members are said to be preparing to be recalled.